At the beginning of August, Joanne Tucker was planning to continue to raise her four-year-old son, David, at home.
At the beginning of September, Tucker was helping to raise the vocal music abilities of Storm Lake Middle School students.
Tucker, hired three weeks before the start of school, is the newest member of the junior high music department, and is thoroughly enjoying an experience she wasn't expecting to have 60 days ago.
She teaches a seventh grade general music class, seventh and eighth grade choir, a homeroom class, monitors the cafeteria over lunch and gives many vocal music lessons to numerous students during her days.
A former teacher in both the Granite Falls, Minn., and Marshall, Minn., school systems for a total of three years, Tucker took 11 years off from the profession to care for her three children, Nathan, Erin and David, with husband Hal, the owner of a crop consulting firm in Storm Lake.
Tucker, who has resided in Storm Lake for the same 11-year period, had intended to look for future music education jobs around the area this fall and prepare for a long commute to another community next year.
However, she received a phone call at the beginning of August from former middle school vocal teacher Joy Traylor, who had phoned to inform her friend she was moving to England and wanted her to apply for her old position.
"It was quite a surprise to hear that she was leaving," Tucker said. "I wasn't planning to start teaching this year, and I wasn't expecting an opening in Storm Lake for some time. This job just appealed to me because I had worked with this age group, my two oldest kids are here in school and the program here is just fantastic."
The music program's sparkling reputation was one of the biggest draws for Tucker, who was thrilled to be given a chance to work with the Storm Lake students and faculty.
"Storm Lake has an absolutely fabulous music program," Tucker said. "The administration is supportive, the music faculty is great, the parents get involved and it's something a lot of kids have really enjoyed doing and being a part of. It's great to see this kind of enthusiasm about music here. They've got a great thing going here."
Raised in Worthington, Minn., Tucker left the state to attend the same school as her father, North Dakota State University, where she initially was a computer science major. It only took a few technology classes for her to realize her life's profession would change from computers to concerts.
"NDSU gave me a great education," Tucker said. "It was great there because it was a smaller program, and we were allowed to have a lot of responsibility. I was able to get involved in a lot of activities, which really allowed me to get a quality education up there."
After graduating from the Fargo campus, Tucker planned to take classes at Cal State-Fullerton to receive a master's degree in choral conducting. The college told her she needed one year of experience in the classroom in order to begin the program, and she landed a job in Granite Falls with the idea of teaching for a single year and then moving to California.
That career plan changed when she met her husband-to-be in the southwest Minnesota town, and instead of Fullerton, Cal., she packed her bags for Marshall, Minn.
After a two-year teaching stint in Marshall, Tucker went on maternity leave, and the family then moved to Storm Lake, where she became involved in a host of area musical activities.
Proficient at the violin, trombone, piano and guitar, Tucker plays violin in the Vista Chamber Players string quartet, is a member of the Cherokee Symphony, has directed musicals at the Buena Vista Community Theater, sings in the Buena Vista County Chorale, plays trombone in a Christmas brass group, has taught piano lessons and leads her church choir.
Despite her instrumental abilities, Tucker said she was much more comfortable teaching pupils how to sing rather than how to play music.
"I think I'm more qualified to teach vocal music rather than band, because I was much more involved in the vocal area in college," Tucker said. "We didn't even have a string program in college, so that has always been more of a hobby than something I would teach."
Tucker is able to instruct a large number of students in her general music and choir classes every day, and is able to teach every seventh grader who comes through the middle school.
However, the individual lessons are the highlight of her days.
The lessons, which occupy most of Tucker's afternoons, allow her to help groups of three to five students focus in on certain techniques not taught in larger classes, and she said she enjoyed teaching those skills to students on a more in-depth basis.
"The lessons are really a privilege to be able to do," Tucker said. "It really makes a difference for a program to be able to have lessons in middle school. I really enjoy that time. It's a chance to get to know them, get to know their voices and work on the music with them on a more personal level."
That level of personal attention is what Tucker finds most satisfactory about the position, as she is able to help nurture the vocal abilities of students and develop a rapport with them at the same time.
"The relationships with the students and seeing the vocal development of these kids are definitely the best parts of this job," Tucker said.
"Working with this age group is great. I really enjoy being able to help these students progress with their musical abilities and be able to build relationships with them at the same time."